Author: Ron Graham
The parables that Jesus told were part of his gospel; therefore they are parables for all peoples throughout all nations and throughout all time.
When Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15), he had already presented the gospel in a form suited to that great commission. He'd carefully crafted his parables to make them cross-cultural, meaningful far beyond his own teaching environment, effective far into the future and across the wide world.
Christ’s parables became an important part of the scriptures, to be retold all around the world. Through 2000 years the parables have provided many a study group and many an individual seeker with insights that enable them to embrace the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.
The Good Samaritan is typical of the timeless quality of Jesus’s parables (Luke 10:30-37). Though set in another place and time, it's a story we easily relate to. Most of Christ's parables are like that —robust travellers through time.
Parables like the unforgiving slave, the sower and the seed, the ten virgins, the houses on rock and sand, are vivid, unforgettable, and disarmingly simple. They implant the word of truth firmly in the hearer’s mind. Jesus had to sometimes explain his parables, but once explained they succeeded in teaching a lesson forcibly.
Jesus, in most of his parables, chose settings from his own culture, however because he spoke in simple terms of things such as family, farming, fishing, building, finance, banquets and celebrations, the stories translate to most cultures without loss of impact. Even when cultural differences are noticeable and exotic, people may well find such parables more colourful and interesting than a story set in their own culture.
The ten virgins is arguably the most culturally specific parable that Jesus told (Matthew 25:1-13). We noted this parable in a previous lesson. Even people whose marriage customs are quite different to those in the parable, have no trouble relating to the attitude and subsequent predicament of the foolish girls in the story.
Jesus’s parables reflect human nature. The characters in Christ's parables are recognisable in any cuture and in any era, because although culture differs, character does not —a liar is still a liar, a cheat still a cheat, a hypocrite still a hypocrite, and a fool still a fool. On the other hand, a kind person is still kind, a humble person still humble, a genuine person still genuine. Indeed, if we dare to look into the parables of Jesus, we will surely recognise ourselves there somewhere.
People have not changed, and the parables prove it. The rebellious and headstrong prodigal son, the cunning and shifty steward, the battling and courageous widow, the selfish and unthinking rich man, the penitent tax collector and the arrogant clergyman, the timid and unfruitful servant —don't you and I know such people in our very own neighbourhood today?
Jesus was a student of human nature. He understood how people tick. He knew how to highlight our strengths and weaknesses, to encourage our strengths and overcome our weaknesses. Jesus showed, in his parables, how to bring out the best in human nature and save us forever from the worst.
The prodigal son portrays some characters that serve as examples of this...
How old were you when you first heard and understood a parable of Jesus? I was four or five. My grandaddy took me in his horse and jinker down a country road to a tiny Sunday School. There a lady told the story of the wise man who built his house on a rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.
I remember the chorus she taught us, “Build on the rock and not upon the sands” and I know I understood, and have never forgotten, her explanation of the parable. It was childishly simple, yet praise the Lord it still guides my life more than 60 years later. It's true of almost every parable that Jesus told, that a child of four or five could understand both the content and moral of the story.
Would anyone argue that this characteristic of the parables is an accident, that it was not one of Christ's designs when he spoke in parables? If the gospel is going to be effective, it must be presentable to children so it can capture their hearts before the devil does. One who "causes one of these little ones to stumble..." is condemned to hell (Matthew 18:1-7).
If we would rather help these little ones to walk with God, can we do better than tell to them the stories of Jesus, not only the stories of his life but the stories that he told when he spoke in parables.
The sprouting seed is typical (Mark 4:26-29). How easy it is to tell this parable to a child, and actually let the child plant some bean or sunflower seeds in a pot or patch. Then let the child wait and watch day by day to see them sprout and grow, and wonder how. How easy to tell the child that God makes them grow, and likewise God's word is like a seed that grows in our hearts to make us good. Blessed is the little one for whom someone does this.
1. What aspect of the parables helps them cross times and cultures so well?
2. Does the cultural setting of a parable restrict its effectiveness?
3. What sort of subjects and settings did Jesus use in his parables?
4. How does Jesus imply that his parables are for all people?
5. What special group of people did we notice would benefit from the parables?
1. They reflect human nature which does not change.
2. No, being a little exotic may even enhance its effect.
3. Family, farming, fishing, building, finance, banquets and celebrations.
4. He says the gospel is for the whole creation, all the world.
5. Little children.